Friday, January 15, 2010

5T4 - The Keeper of Traken 4

The Master's return to Doctor Who after five years (although, really eight years, as I'll explain in a minute) is hampered by many factors. Not only is this not The Master we knew from the classic run of stories that Roger Delgado appeared in during the Pertwee era, it's an imitation of the shadow of that Master that appeared in The Deadly Assassin. And whereas Peter Pratt wore a full face mask in Assassin, in The Keeper of Traken, a new actor, Geoffrey Beevers, is wearing makeup (with teeth painted on his lips - very weird).

Even though it's supposed to be the same Master, they actually look quite different. It also doesn't help that The Doctor doesn't react to The Master's unveiling near the end of Part Four with any great sense of occasion. When I first saw this story as a kid, I had no knowledge of the Delgado Master, but if I had, I would have considered him a mild inconvenience for The Doctor, based on Tom Baker's reaction.

But, much like the Pratt Master, Geoffrey Beevers's Master is being handled here merely as a steward to the throne, keeping the seat warm until the REAL Master, inhabiting the body of Tremas, appears on the scene to take over the mantle. When The Master does take over Tremas's body, for some reason, the body he is now inhabiting changes considerably. His hair is short and dark, his beard is different, even his clothes are completely changed. Is this part of the Keeper's powers that The Master was still possessing in order to take over another body?

More likely, it was the first overt reference to the programme's long history that John Nathan-Turner brought into his fresh, new vision of Doctor Who in the 1980s. Nathan-Turner wasn't interested in bringing back The Master as a character, he was interested in bringing back the very same Master as played by Roger Delgado, with the only drawback being the obvious fact that Delgado was no longer alive to play the part. In forcing Anthony Ainley to do a pastiche on the original Master character, it did a massive disservice to Delgado, Ainley, and the entire premise and integrity of Doctor Who.

The Doctor has always changed his appearance with each regeneration, so why not The Master? Because, in the eyes of JNT, those fans of the show who remembered Delgado's appearances ten years prior (i.e., not you, children and other new viewers to the show) wouldn't recognize The Master unless he looked like he did when we first saw him. JNT probably thought he was appeasing, even delighting, the true fans of the series when he made this move, because he was doing it to please who he thought was the standard representative of the diehard Doctor Who fan - unofficial series continuity adviser Ian Levine. The thing is, very few Who fans had the recall of the old days like Levine did, so Anthony Ainley playing a new regeneration of the Master who looked different than his predecessor would have been just as effective, if not more so, than Delgado 2.0.

As much as I like Anthony Ainley's performance as The Master, I wish he was encouraged to play his own version of The Master. In making this new Master so much like the old one, John Nathan-Turner took the first step down the long, slippery slope of appeasing to Doctor Who fandom.


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